Easy Come, Easy Go

Now Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for Rosaviakosmos, the Russian Space Agency, says that Lance Bass isn’t going to fly with the Russians next year. But that there is another Polish businessman who is.

Unfortunately, one of the things that didn’t change in Russia when the Soviet Union fell apart was the bit about the mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Is there some behind-the-scenes dispute going on here, or are they establishing a stronger negotiating position vis a vis Mircorp?

Inquiring minds, and all that…

Space Confusion At The Pentagon

In today’s Space.com, Leonard David reports on a speech by Peter Teets, the Undersecretary of the Air Force, and his thoughts on military space. While some of them are encouraging, others indicate that much of his mindset still remains mired in the past. Not surprising, since he’s a former Lockheed Martin executive, who’s spent his entire career there (the past, that is…)

The use of spacecraft for national security purposes and to combat terrorism is on a dramatic growth curve. That increased reliance calls for new spaceborne abilities, protection of orbiting hardware, quick access to space, and an overhaul of how America’s military and security organizations utilize satellite assets.

So far, so good. Particularly the part about “quick access to space.” That almost intrinsically implies much-lower-cost access to space. NASA doesn’t need it (except for crew rescue, but they have a different, and flawed, plan for that), but the DoD does.

Teets said he has started looking at the issue of assured access to space.

“When we want to go, we’ve got to be able to go,” Teets said. But in this arena, there are “a couple of disturbing factors,” he said.

In reviewing the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, Teets said, “I find there’s some single points of failure.”

Teets said the RL-10 engine used in Boeing’s Delta IV launcher is a worry. “If an RL-10 engine has a significant flight problem, we’re going to be down for a while. I’d like to see us move ahead with an effort that would eliminate that single point failure,” he said.

In the case of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas V, that vehicle uses a new Russian-designed and -built Atlas RD-180 engine. Use of rocket engine propulsion technology that is not produced in the United States, and cannot currently be produced in the United States, “troubles me some,” Teets said,

Well, if he gets the show on the road and develops true fast-response capability (i.e., reusable space transports), EELV will become obsolete anyway. I think that his concern is overblown here. Russia is reasonable, as long as you come with money in hand–Aerojet or Pratt could certainly do a license deal to start manufacturing RD-180s domestically, given sufficient incentive. And to worry about the RL-10, an engine that has been in use in one form or another for almost four decades, with a superlative track record, suddenly coming down with some sort of endemic design problem is a waste of worry resources.

What he really needs to be focusing on is how to move beyond EELV and expendables in general (probably difficult, given his Lockmart pedigree). We are not going to get space control from EELV, regardless of how many different engines we have to choose from.

But that’s the problem, because where he really goes off the rails is when he starts talking about reusables:

“Clearly, NASA is looking for a shuttle replacement vehicle. Military space probably doesn’t have the same lift requirements [as does] the shuttle replacement,” Teets said. Furthermore, while manned space will ultimately be important to the Air Force, “it’s probably not the first priority for a reusable launch system,” he said.

“We all know that when you build manned space into a launch system, it’s a really different dynamic,” Teets said. “My attitude is to embrace the relationship with NASA?move forward in both NASA’s interests as well as national security space interest.”

Yes, “we all know that.” However, what he apparently doesn’t know is that when it comes to building reusable transports, putting a pilot in probably makes it not harder and more expensive, but easier and cheaper.

“Man-rating” is one of those terms that people throw around in launch vehicle discussions to sound like they’re technically sophisticated, but very few people really understand the term, or what it involves, or the proper context for it. Sure, if you’re going to strap folks to the top of a piece of expendable munitions, it makes sense to put in an escape system, and to take extra time and dollars to maximize the reliability of the manufactured and assembled vehicle. Particularly since each time it’s launched is both the first, and the last time.

But when we start talking about space transports, we have to approach it entirely differently. In this case, one expects to get the vehicle back, and the vehicle itself becomes much more valuable and irreplaceable than the crew. The military should certainly be used to the concept of occasionally losing a test pilot–we don’t want to infect them with the NASA disease. This is not to say that measures won’t be taken to minimize chance of vehicle loss, but they are the same measures that would be taken if it were unmanned, because as the article describes below, they are talking about a vehicle that they expect to cost a couple of billion dollars to replace (though I think that this is a ridiculous number).

But the nice thing is that it turns out that vehicles have a lot better chance of coming home if they have a pilot. And there can be a lot of cost savings in not having to design the avionics to be totally autonomous.

Boeing doesn’t “man rate” their air transports. They simply design and test them to safely carry people, with a flight crew. Space transports will have exactly the same design philosophy.

But one wouldn’t expect a former Chief Operating Officer of Lockmart to understand that.

And they still apparently don’t understand how critical it is to get some competition back into this business:

The prospect of a joint, Air Force-NASA flight demonstration vehicle has been discussed.

One idea is for the two organizations to pony up $900 million each, resulting in a flight demonstrator taking to space in 2006. Termed a “Y” vehicle versus an “X” vehicle, the Air Force would make operational use of the craft following a series of flight tests.

$1.8B for a single prototype.

Insane. Did they learn nothing from X-33?

Apparently that’s exactly what they learned…

Perversely Diverse

The Media Minder has a nice little report from the front lines of affirmative action today:

The pursuit of superficial diversity in newsrooms has paradoxically stifled the pursuit of intellectual diversity. It’s a big problem, it’s largely unacknowledged, and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.

Space Tourism Picking Up Steam

Someone of whom I’ve never heard named Lance Bass from some band named Nsync (boy, am I totally unhip or what? And proud of it, too…) is negotiating for a trip to space.

This is great news. It will start to make space tourism something that more and more people in the entertainment world start to think about seriously. And they have money. We want to make this the next Hollywood fad.

Also, as a result we’re starting to approach the tipping point at which demand for seats will exceed Russian supply. This will help provide needed funding for companies like Mircorp, and get investors to start taking this market seriously.

As more investment is made in the system by entities with a true interest in reducing costs, launch costs will finally start coming down from their current stratospheric levels. That will also enable the development of dedicated orbital hotels, so no one will have to any longer kowtow to NASA in order to take a space vacation.

Were They All Catholic?

Elaine Lafferty has a nice piece in the Irish Times about American attitudes toward terror vis a vis Europe’s. But there’s one statement that I find odd:

Thousands, not hundreds, of civilians were killed; the estimate in New York is that 30,000 to 40,000 children lost a parent in the attack on the World Trade Centre.

Am I missing something? Last I heard, the death estimates were about three thousand, give or take.

First of all, surely not all of the dead were parents. But even if they all were, and ignoring the cases where both parents were killed (hopefully rare), that would average out to over ten kids apiece. So who came up with this number and how was it derived?

No Virgins For Him

Some Jewish settlers wrapped the body of a dead terrorist in pigskin. The terrorists expressed disapproval, but no word on whether or not it will discourage them.

I still think that we should outfit all aircraft with an overhead sprinkler system that disseminates hogs’ blood in an emergency. That might have made them think twice…

Missed It By That Much

I screwed up yesterday (not an unusual occurrence), when I noted that it was the fortieth anniversary of Glenn’s flight. Today is. But I’m sticking to the rest of the story, though some have suggested that it was a little churlish to criticize the Senator on the anniversary of his achievement.

However, it was an achievement, and one of great bravery. Today, Andrew Chaikin has another commemorative article as a follow up to yesterday’s from Leonard David. In it, he describes the hazards of that particular flight, on which all did not go well, and contrasts it with more modern spaceflight in the Shuttle.

In some sense, Glenn’s flight was a mini-version of Apollo XIII, in which we almost lost three astronauts on their way to the Moon. The heat shield of his Mercury capsule came loose, and there was great concern that the capsule (along with him) would not survive the fire of entry after his three orbits. Quick thinking on the ground came up with a potential solution, and it apparently worked, though he might have made it even without the change in procedure–we’ll never know.

Of course, the danger should be put into perspective. As a former Korean combat fighter jockey and Marine test pilot, for whom funerals of comrades were a frequent occurrence, strapping himself into that capsule and riding the column of fire to orbit was probably one of the safest things that he’d done in his career up to that point…

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!